At what point do we draw the line between gimmick and fan service? As television shows grow long in the tooth writers will often resort to gimmick episodes to attract more viewers. Things like stunt casting, major character deaths, and crossovers are common desperation plot devices trotted out to try and impress an ever dwindling audience. This feature-length edition of Psych aims to go above and beyond the average “special episode” by giving fans of the show something that they’ve wanted for years, a musical episode. Series creator Steve Franks wrote and directed the episode, on top of composing all of the episode’s original musical numbers.
Psych has never been the sort of show that pulled these stunt episodes to bring in new viewers, rather using them to please their already fervent fanbase. Episodes like the Twin Peaks homage “Dual Spires” came off as loving homage rather than a moment of desperate promotion. This special edition of Psych aims to please both fans of the show and fans of musicals, bringing back Ally Sheedy as the murderous Mr. Yang as well as special guest stars Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Anthony Rapp (Rent). While I don’t believe it was their explicit intention, this episode features many of the the hallmark trappings of writers who are desperate for ideas, from the stunt casting, to the musical interludes, to the (SPOILERS) death of a fairly major character.
Psych: The Musical finds Shawn and Gus drawn to the world of musical theater after deranged playwright “Z” (played by Rapp), escapes from the mental institution years after killing a critic and setting fire to a theater in a psychotic rage after his newest play is about to be shut down. They find that his escape was motivated by the actions of producer Armitage (Bostwick), who has decided to resurrect a play very similar to Z’s own, a musical about the killings of Jack the Ripper. Z made friends with recurring villain Mr. Yang while institutionalized, requiring Detectives Lassiter and Jules to bring her along to help with the investigation.
The success of an episode like this hinges on the strength of its many musical numbers, and it’s during these pivotal scenes where the show stumbles. None of the songs are particularly memorable, which is not helped by the fact that none of the performers are exactly that engaging when singing. No one is outright terrible, but it’s clear why they became actors and not singers. Aside from Gus constantly suggesting that the period-piece Ripper musical include a musical number starring himself as a Jamaican Inspector Man, the songs just went in one ear and out the other. Adding to this issue is the sheer number of songs packed into the episode’s 90-minute running time. Characters break out into song so often it begins to get tiring about half an hour in, reaching a point to where you just want the mystery solved without any more interruptions for a musical number. Considering Franks is a musician whose band performs the show’s catchy opening theme song, I was surprised that most of the songs amounted to nonspecific theater fare injected with lines about murder suspects and clues. He clearly wanted to include all of the songs he wrote for this, but shoehorning them all into the episode brought the pacing to a halt at times.
Somewhere in this musical is a very good episode of Psych. The typical humor of the show is present, heavy on theater references as well as call backs to previous episodes. Shawn and Gus get in some very good scenes, including their disastrous attempt to infiltrate the backstage of the Ripper musical during one of its performances. Sheedy is always fun to see as the suspiciously cheerful and insane Yang, although Bostwick and Rapp are underutilized as murder suspects considering their notable background in musicals. Fan of musical theater will be underwhelmed by the ho-hum songwriting, but fans of Psych will likely enjoy seeing the resolution of one of the shows long running plotlines, as well as the dependable performances of the cast (when they aren’t singing of course).
Psych will likely be ending its run with the eighth season next year, with this musical being the first of many ways the show will go out of its way to please fans before it’s time is up. While Psych: The Musical fails where it counts, it’s still indicative of the fact that the cast and crew have always made sure that the fanbase comes first. A for effort, C- for execution.